Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Two Men and a Lion

cover art by Morris Gollub
 Dell Comics' Tarzan #11 (Sept-Oct 1949) lifts ideas from one of the original Tarzan novels and from the legend of Robin Hood, then uses this to tell an original story.

Written by Gaylord Du Bois and drawn by Jesse Marsh, "Tarzan and the Sable Lion" begins with the Ape Man encountering, unsurprisingly, a sable lion.

Tarzan encounters a lot of lions throughout his career, but he's particularly impressed with this feline's size and ferocity. So, after leading it on a merry chase for a time and saving a native warrior from ending up in the lion's belly, Tarzan sets to work establishing his dominance. Soon, the lion is his not-quite-tame pet.

This can't help but remind any self-respecting Tarzan fan of the 1922 novel Tarzan and the Golden Lion, in which the Ape Man trains a lion and makes it his not-quite-tame pet. The parallel is far from exact. The lion from the novel was found as an orphaned cub and the training process was much longer. But the parallel is there, nonetheless.

The Tarzan comics at the time existed in their own continuity--for instance, Tarzan and Jane have a young son they call Boy, much like in the movies but not at all like the books. But it is obvious from the common use of supporting characters taken from the books and a few other elements that Du Bois was familiar with the original novels and often drew on them for ideas. It's just a guess, of course, but I'd bet 25 cents that Du Bois was deliberately lifting an idea from the novels in this instance.

Then, he lifts an idea that must have been consciously taken from the Robin Hood stories. The parallel here is too exact to be anything but deliberate. Tarzan encounters a large warrior named Buto, who is an expert in throwing his knob stick and demands that Tarzan fight him before he'll allow the Ape Man to cross a river. They fight on a log bridge.

Gee whiz, it's only the lack of quarterstaves that keep this scene from mirroring the Robin Hood vs. Little John fight from legend.

I don't intend any criticism, by the way. Du Bois isn't plagiarizing. Rather, he's mixing familiar elements together in a new way to tell an entertaining and original story.

Tarzan defeats Buto, which turns out to be the best way to make friends with the big guy. (once again mirroring Robin and Little John). Buto leads Tarzan and the lion back to his village, only to find that it had been raided by slavers and the people captured. Tarzan, examining the tracks, realizes that Jane and Boy had been in the village and must also be prisoners.

The two humans and the lion track the slavers to their city. The ensuing adventure is entertaining, but flawed. The main problem is Tarzan and his friends effect the ensuing rescue too easily. With Buto knocking out guards and the lion threatening to eat anyone Tarzan will let him eat, the good guys free the slaves almost effortlessly.

Making their way to the sheik's home, they capture him, making him cough up gold as reparations for the village he destroyed.

They make a getaway with a large part of the sheik's wealth and everyone is saved.

It really does wrap up too easily and with an absence of tension. Du Bois was an great writer, but was off his usually excellent game this time. During the rescue, something should have gone wrong to make the adventure more challenging for Tarzan.

But, despite this, I like the story. Marsh will never be my favorite Tarzan artist, but he knew how to tell a story well and some of his panels are downright beautiful. But even more than that, the Tarzan/Buto/lion team was awesome--the inherent coolness of the three is such that it brings us into the story and allows us to enjoy it despite its flaws.

That's it for this time. Next week, Ben Grimm hops back a few decades to once again fight in World War II.

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